– Learning about my best self through Reflected Best-Self Exercise

During my master’s program, I completed a Reflected Best Self Exercise (RBSE) as part of my coursework for Positive Organizational Psychology module. This has turned out to be one of the assignments that I enjoyed the most.

Grounded in positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship, RBSE is a personal development tool created based on academic research. It is a multi-stage process to help you see yourself at your best, using self-reflection and feedback gathered from your professional and personal network. RBSE is used globally in universities and business organizations, for corporate training, team building, and executive leadership programs.

Prior research has shown that understanding and engaging with one’s best self, or what’s known as “best-self activation”, has multiple positive outcomes, including: creating positive emotions, strengthening immune system, improving resilience to stress, creative problem solving, performance under pressure, employment relationship, job satisfaction, engagement, and employee retention. Unlike the traditional approach, the feedback solicited in RBSE is narrative and strength-based, specifically on examples of situations in which one was at their best. By focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses, it enables participants to tap into strengths they may or may not be aware of, reach their highest potential and contribute further to their organizations.

In contrast to the traditional approach, RBSE adopts a more holistic approach as it requires the participants to solicit feedback from different life domains. Research has found that feedback from the combination of professional and personal network is associated with more positive outcomes than feedback from only professional sources.

The step-by-step procedure of RBSE:

1. Identify feedback providers– It would be best to gather feedback from 10-20 individuals who have known you in different domains, eg. colleagues, managers, college peers, teachers, friends, family members, so that you can develop a richer understanding of yourself.

2. Send requests– send out emails to people you’ve identified in step 1 to request for their feedback, specifically, to describe 3 instances when they saw you adding values and making important contributions. In the emails, include the purpose of your request and a brief template (eg. One of the greatest ways that you add value is… For example, I think of the time when…). It would be good to include a deadline too, so that the individuals know by when they need to respond to you.

3. Reflect and create your Best-Self Portrait– Reflect and write about 3 experiences when you were at your best. Identify patterns across these incidents and compose a Best-Self Portrait. Your portrait can look like this, “At my best, I am…

4. Review feedback– Analyze the feedback you received from your network, search for common themes across the stories and categorize them accordingly.

5. Reflect and revise your Best-Self Portrait– Revise your portrait by incorporating your new insights from the feedback into a Revised Reflected Best-Self Portrait.

6. Reflect and action plans– Some questions to ponder on:

  • What have you learned about your personal strengths based on the exercise? What differences does it make?
  • How does your best-self profile correspond with the tasks you spend the most of your time doing in your career?
  • What kind of work situations would bring out the best in you and in others? What keeps you from operating at your best more of the time?
  • What are a few ways you can make a shift in your work to leverage your strengths more?
  • How has the feedback changed or reinforced the way you think about your career?

You can then develop a plan to implement the insight you gained from the exercise.

My key takeaways of RBSE:

(i) The strengths we see in ourselves are not necessarily the strengths others see in us.

I have truly expanded my own self-concept thanks to the exercise. Prior to reading the feedback, my self-reflected best-self stories were mainly revolved around my past achievements and hard work. This is related to the culture I was brought up in, where hard work, success, and achievement are prioritized and perceived highly in the society. Achieving goals, pursuing excellence, surpassing my own limits, taking up new challenges… these have been fundamental to my own sense of identity.

While some of the feedback I gathered from others matched my self-reflection, many of them have shown me a different best-self in the eyes of others. Some of the common patterns in the feedback I received were:

  • Courage: Independent, proactive in pursuing personal and career growth, willing to step out of comfort zone
  • Listening: being understanding, providing space to others, and listening with empathy
  • Supportive: being present, encouraging, patient, making others feel safe and valued, bringing out the best in others
  • Positive & Joyful: passionate about life, appreciate little things in life and bringing joy to others
  • Determination & Resilience: being persistent, overcome challenges and problems, bounce back amid difficulty
  • Analytical & Perspective: bringing different perspectives to a problem or situation; ability to see the big picture and examine a problem from different perspectives
  • Other strengths including: Dedication, Modesty, Adaptability, Self-awareness, Driven to growth and improvement, Leading by example.

(ii) We don’t always recognize our own strengths because they can feel like second nature to us. Some of these strengths, eg. listening and being supportive, felt like second nature to me as I have been doing so without even trying. Also, they did not feel like the most “valuable” strengths in the society (compared to Leadership, Problem solving, etc.). It was only until when I was leading a team and learning how to coach that I understood the value of these strengths, and that they may not come as easily for everyone.

(iii) Through the lens of others, I came to realize that my best self is not necessarily, solely, built on my achievement, dedication, courage, or determination. There are other ways I can/ have been contributing. I have learned to appreciate strengths that I tend to undervalue- the softer, quieter ones which shaped a large part of me. I have learned to embrace that my best self is not only about all the “doing” and hustling, but also includes my way of being. 

(iv) An observation was how several of my strengths were noticed in both professional and personal domains. Eg., being a good listener, being supportive and encouraging, bringing different perspectives to a problem or situation, constantly seeking improvement. I would see this as a sign that I was in the right position where I could develop and leverage my strengths, and bring my authentic self to work. As a result of that, I was overall engaged and satisfied at work. 

(v) I realized that while I may be a supportive friend and colleague, I have not been as kind to myself as I have been to others. I tend to be self-critical, especially when things do not go as well as I would like to. This is something I’m learning, to be kind and more compassionate to myself.

(vi) The exercise has affirmed my career path, which moves forward from self-actualization to supporting and empowering others. The feedback I gathered has shown ways I could contribute and support others by using my strengths. This is aligned to the path I have embarked on, including pursuing a master’s program in positive & coaching psychology and starting a coaching career. It also coincides with my long-term goal of making a positive impact in others’ lives. I believe that my personal strengths in listening, being supportive, ability to bring different perspectives to a problem, and staying positive amid challenges are some of the qualities that I can bring to coaching or any people-oriented career.

To conclude, I found RBSE a useful discovery tool that enables one to affirm, construct, and modify their self-concept through self-narratives, feedback from others, and reflection.

I would recommend this to professionals, job seekers, leaders, graduate students, or anyone out there who would like to discover and further develop your best self.